Anti-Black and anti-Indigenous systemic racism dates back generations across North America, and Montreal is no exception. The deaths of George Floyd, Joyce Echaquan and countless others have stirred the nation, and while some people are learning about systemic racism for the first time, these types of stories are not unheard-of in BIPOC communities. Black and Indigenous youths are already regularly targeted by police, and given that Quebec officers are under no obligation to address a detainee in English, this puts young non-French speaking people of colour at an even further disadvantage.
To help those affected by this issue, the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), through its Access to Justice initiative, collaborated with students in my Editing and Revising English class as part of the McGill Certificate in Translation to have a special pamphlet created. With the guidance of our instructor, Meaghan Girard, my teammates and I worked together to relay information in the form of a 350-word plain-English pamphlet, informing at-risk youth of their rights when facing language barriers at the time of an arrest.
When we started this project midway through the 2020 Winter semester, we had no idea of the challenges ahead. We became acquainted with each other and our roles for the project and made plans to dig into it after March break, as some of us would be travelling for the week. Upon our return, we had just begun wrapping our minds around the technical issues of the project when the pandemic struck. The resulting lockdown measures added an additional level of concern we had not expected. We were forced to take the project we had started together in person and complete it remotely, resulting in continuous group email chains, documents getting sent back and forth, the need to stay on top of our emails to ensure that important information or new documents were not accidentally sidetracked, the responsibility of paying extra attention in assuring that everyone’s opinions and schedules were being respected… And the fact that we could not have face-to-face discussions did not make it any easier. However, we were well aware that we had been given the important responsibility of bringing this project to life, and we were determined to persevere past these obstacles and do just that.
In the end, we were able to sort through a sizeable amount of legislative, detention and language policy research. We extracted the more important information and summarized it in plain language. We included short, simple phrases that a young detainee can use to assert their rights during an arrest should they not know how to speak French. As SCS students, we each came from different backgrounds and the final document reflected the variety of skills that we each brought to the table.
I am very proud of the work my teammates and I have accomplished to help guide vulnerable youths through stressful interactions with the police.
We are incredibly grateful to have been given such an incredible opportunity by the QCGN to help make a difference, and to have the support of the Provost’s office in the form of a small grant overseen by Career Advising and Transition Services (CATS) at the McGill School of Continuing Studies and awarded to students engaging in experiential learning as part of a course.
This project was not only very rewarding as a language student, but also just simply as a human being. In addition to providing us with the opportunity to learn from the real world, it allowed us to gain awareness, along with a proper understanding on how to stand in solidarity with and be a better ally to our BIPOC brothers and sisters.
About Laura Hansen
Laura Hansen recently graduated from McGill University with a certificate in English Translation. She also possesses a B.A. in Linguistics from Concordia University, as well as a D.E.C. in Graphic Design from John Abbott College. She currently works as a full-time packaging designer and is highly motivated to advance her career as an English Translator and Reviser.